Better Breathing Brings Peak PerformanceInhale, exhale, in, out. Breathing is one of the most natural function of our bodies. Or is it? In spite of its importance, many of us have developed shallow and uneven breathing habits. Effective breathing can make a measurable difference in martial arts performance and in life.
When you inhale, or breathe in, the air you take in goes through a multi-step filtering process before reaching your lungs. Specialized lung structures extract oxygen and transfer it into your bloodstream, where it travels to various oxygen-hungry tissues, including the brain and the large muscles. This cycle occurs tens of thousands of times each day, unnoticed, until you really push yourself in martial arts class and discover how much work breathing can be.
With additional exertion, the process picks up speed trying to accommodate the body’s increased demand for oxygen. The heart pumps faster, attempting to meet the demands of muscles engaged in high activity for oxygenated blood and the removal of waste carbon dioxide.
Regular deep breathing can train the body to allow the development of improved oxygen uptake. This leads to greater stamina and strength as well as improved mental focus, all of which are hallmarks of excellence in the martial arts. Life too, is just a breath away.
And Everyday LifeStudents have often heard that Karate training should affect them in a positive manner in regard to their day-to-day activities. They are prompted to ask, “How will training in Mu-Do-Kai help me to do my job, to understand my parents, to drive my car, etc.?” Since there are several levels of discussion involved in answering such a question, I will try my best to offer some concrete examples to illustrate otherwise abstract principles.
Let us first consider awareness. Are you AWAKE? In a tournament, a lazy or casual attitude can cause you to lose. In a self-defense situation, losing could mean being hurt or even worse. In class, we work hard to develop an “awake” attitude, a state of awareness which allows us to see, hear, and understand more. When the consequences of a “sleepy” attitude are being scored upon in a sparring match, the motivation to sharpen up our attention is intrinsic to the process. To maintain this attitude in action, students should concentrate on the activity at hand. Each action can be “breathed through,” just as every movement in a Karate class is “breathed through.”
Pre-arranged partner practice and Karate sparring are very real activities; that is, if you make a mistake, the consequence is immediate and obvious. In this sense, practice is a very true process. When a partner scores on you cleanly, there is no doubt that you made an error of technique or strategy. Similarly, when you score on a partner, you enjoy the experience of everything going right. By identifying the feelings involved in this process, you can recognize touchstones for other situations. Here we have the foundation of the Martial Arts philosophy of Right Action and Right Conduct. We cultivate a sensitivity, through practice, of what feels right.
A developed feeling of courage and an attitude of confident alertness can be carried by the students from the Dojo into everyday activities. This attitude is a success formula for any endeavor. It is an energized state for harmonious action from inspired perception, a moment-by-moment experience of Right Living. As human beings, we are like musical instruments which must be kept in tune, regardless of what melody or harmony we play. Karate training is a way of learning how to tune these instruments we were born into. Being in tune within ourselves allows us to enjoy playing the game of life, and also to learn about being in tune with others.
Sensei Robert H. Mason c 1990
“You have to recognize that what you think
not only affects the world-
it is the world.”
-Fred Alan Wolf
Nature Wouldn't Steer Us Wrong
These are the days of technology, where logic is key. We are taught and conditioned to read into everything, looking for where the tiniest detail could be off. We second-guess everything, fine-tuning almost to a fault. The term "workaholic" was in the dictionary even before "yatta yatta yatta." It often takes too long to build up trust in another human being and his or her intentions. So why is all this? It is because we have forgotten how to trust ourselves.
Other species on the planet survive every day not by using logic, trial and error (if there's an error in the wild you don't get to try again), or examining everything, but by following their intuition. There have been times in everyone's life when you automatically like or dislike a certain place or person, or know in your gut that something is right or wrong. That's your intuition speaking; it's telling you what to do so you can't possibly go wrong.
Everyone at UKC has had a time when we were training, and thinking (you think with your mind, let's remember) you had everything exactly right--except it didn't feel quite right. Sooner or later the sensei walks by and corrects you. Your problem could have been the position of your foot, shoulders, all the way up to the actual execution of a technique. The sensei walks away, and you're left thinking, "Wow, that feels a lot better." From then on you never second guess it. Your body just knows what to do.
Following your intuition is most important in sparring. When your opponent throws a technique, a thousand options go through your subconscious all at once. Your body picks one in less than a millisecond and puts it into action. I personally have found that just going with the flow, following that intuition, is a lot more effective than logically thinking about what to do next.
It's true, all of this takes practice. Modern society has segregated our minds and bodies so much that we often forget how to trust ourselves. But with persistent training and drilling, we can get back that natural talent we all have.
In these times of technology, we've separated our minds from
the Earth and its energies; yet somehow our bodies remain more in tune than we do. It is important to learn to listen to our bodies just as closely as we listen to our sense of logic. Letting our intuitions guide us now and then can greatly benefit Karate training, as well as every aspect of our lives.